By: Georgia Pettygrove
“For I am – or I was – one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not” (Baldwin, 20).
While reading Giovanni’s Room, this particular passage stood out to me. At first, I was unsure of it’s meaning, but I soon realized how applicable this excerpt is to David’s battle with accepting his sexuality.
David begins by saying he prides himself–or used to pride himself–on his ability to control his decisions, urges, and reactions. In David’s case, this means successfully concealing the truth about his sexual orientation from others and partaking in a heterosexual relationship with Hella. Since his sexual encounter with Joey, David has been unwilling to acknowledge his sexual orientation. When he met Giovanni, however, he was no longer able to pretend to be someone he wasn’t because he couldn’t hide his feelings for Giovanni (despite how much he may have wanted to). He is ashamed of it and would never admit that he is gay to himself or others, but he still allows himself to be in a relationship with Giovanni (at least for now). David loves Giovanni for accepting him and feels a sense of freedom from being able to express himself, but also hates Giovanni for enabling him to do so because he wishes he could keep that part of his identity permanently concealed. His denial presents itself in the form of resentment for anyone who gives him the freedom to recognize who he truly is.
Next, David compares the ability to make these deceptive decisions to ambiguity–or the quality of being doubtful or uncertain. This means that he prides himself on being decisive and holding himself to those decisions, despite the fact that he knows this isn’t truly what he wants. He continues to say that people who are “strong-willed” in their decisions to conceal a part of themselves can only believe this if they are kidding themselves because, in reality, they are only harming themselves and those close to them.
He continues to say that those same individual’s decisions “aren’t really decisions at all,” but rather a form of “evasion” or “illusion” designed to make themselves appear to be something they’re not. In David’s case, he has maintained a certain image of himself since he slept with Joey and this image is false because it doesn’t accurately represent his identity. David’s reluctance to acknowledge his sexual orientation has led him down a path of self-deception which continues to disenfranchise both himself and those he loves. If he continues to shy away from being himself and coming to terms with his sexual orientation, he will continue to become frustrated with Giovanni and, ultimately, their relationship won’t work out.
We still have some reading to do before the end of the book, but we know it doesn’t end optimally for either Giovanni or David. So, the chances of David coming to terms with his identity and feeling comfortable expressing it appear less than likely.